Saliva and Your Mouth

Oral HealthMost of the time, we don’t think about the saliva that exists in our mouth – we just let it do its part in maintaining our oral health, as well as our general health. But while saliva is composed of 99 percent water, the properties of the remaining one percent make it an amazing fluid that can play a critical role in oral health functions, as well as the diagnosis of a number of illnesses and conditions.

The Many Roles of Saliva

  • It helps us taste and swallow our food. Saliva is essential for taste perception. For some foods, it is the water in saliva that unlocks that food’s taste on our taste buds; for others, digestive enzymes in saliva accelerate specific chemical reactions that would otherwise proceed too slowly to allow a particular taste to emerge. Saliva also protects us from choking on our food, and prevents the esophagus from  getting damaged by rough food particles.
  • It protects teeth and gums from tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath. The constant flow of saliva over your teeth washes away much of the bacterial plaque that can form on them. It keeps the pH level of your mouth near neutral (7 on the pH scale), which promotes remineralization and discourages demineralization of tooth enamel. Because it keeps bacterial plaque in check, saliva also reduces the chances of bad breath and gum disease.
  • It can help dentists diagnose various oral health challenges. Depending on the state of your saliva, your dentist may check your mouth for the fungal infection known as thrush, for signs of xerostomia or dry mouth, or for structural problems with a salivary gland or duct.
  • It can help dentists and other health professionals diagnose systemic illnesses. Because saliva contains RNA molecules, it is possible to evaluate saliva for markers of diseases ranging from diabetes and cystic fibrosis to adrenal cortex diseases and even certain types of cancer. In the future, dentists may play a key role in systemic disease diagnosis because many dental patients see their oral health professional more frequently than they see their family doctor.

“Saliva is a substance our bodies could not function without,” says Dr. Carol Ford, a cosmetic dentist with a practice in central Phoenix. “All its components work together to facilitate good oral health.”

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